27 January 2009
Transformative philosophy asks: What can one do today to promote a promise of emancipation through enlightenment?
Interviewer: Hisham Melhem (see brief bio at http://www.publicpolicyseminars.com/melhem.html)
Interesting link to Al-Arabiya profile here: http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/01/04/africa/profile.php
natalnorg note: Interview loops back to beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian segment near the 5-min mark.
25 January 2009
US HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES COMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS
Dave Obey (D - WI), Chairman
15 January 2009
Contact: Kirstin Brost - (202) 225-2771
American Recovery and Reinvestment: A Summary
Action, and action now. The economy is in a crisis not seen since the Great Depression. Credit is frozen, and consumer purchasing power is in decline. In the last 4 months the country has lost 2 million jobs. We stand to lose another 3 to 5 million in the next year.
The economy is shutting down.1
In the next 2 weeks Congress will consider the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009. This package is the first crucial step in a concerted effort to create and save 3 to 4 million jobs, jumpstart our economy, and begin the process of transforming it for the 21st century. The package includes $275 billion in economic recovery tax cuts and $550 billion in thoughtful and carefully targeted priority investments. Unprecedented accountability measures have also been included.
The package contains targeted efforts in each of the following core areas:
• Energy - $54B
• Science and Technology - $16B
• Transit Infrastructure/Transportation - $90B
• Education - $142B
• Healthcare - $24B
• Worker Protection - $102B
• Public Sector - $91B
Unemployment rates are expected to rise to between 8% and 9% this year (and by some estimates to as high as 12%). Tough choices have been made in this legislation, and fiscal discipline will demand more tough choices in the future. We will face a large deficit for years to come. Without this package, those deficits could be devastating. We face the risk of economic chaos.
Since 2001 US worker productivity has risen, and 96% of the income growth has gone to the wealthiest 10%. While the wealthiest reaped the benefits from record high worker productivity, the remaining 90% of Americans struggled to sustain their standard of living. They sustained it by borrowing … and borrowing … and borrowing. When they could borrow no more, the bottom collapsed.
Our immediate aim is to prevent the loss of millions of jobs. Our ultimate aim is to make the investments that restore the ability of average middle income families to increase their income and build a decent future for their children.
A historic level of transparency, oversight, and accountability will help guarantee taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and Americans can see the results of their investments. In many instances funds are distributed through existing formulas to programs with proven track records and accountability measures already in place. How funds are spent, all announcements of contract and grant competitions and awards, and formula grant allocations must be posted on a special website created by the President.
Program managers will also be listed so the public knows who to hold accountable. Public notification of funding must include a description of the investment funded, the purpose, the total cost, and why the activity should be funded with recovery dollars. Governors, mayors, or others making funding decisions must personally certify that the investment has been fully vetted and is an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars. This will also be placed on the recovery website.
A Recovery Act Accountability and Transparency Board will be created to review management of recovery dollars and to signal and investigate any potential problems. The seven-member board will include Inspectors General and Deputy Cabinet secretaries. The Government Accountability Office and the Inspectors General will be provided with additional funding and access to conduct special recovery funding reviews. State and local whistleblowers who report fraud and abuse will be protected.
This plan targets investments to key areas that will create and preserve good jobs while strengthening the ability of this economy to become more efficient and produce more opportunities for employment.
There are no earmarks in this package.
To put people back to work today and reduce our dependence on foreign oil tomorrow, we will strengthen efforts directed at doubling renewable energy production and renovate public buildings to make them more energy-efficient. Investments include the following:
• $32 billion to transform the nation’s energy transmission, distribution, and production systems by allowing for a smarter and better grid and focusing investment in renewable technology
• $16 billion to repair public housing and make key energy efficiency retrofits
•$6 billion to weatherize modest-income homes
Science and Technology
We need to put scientists to work looking for the next great discovery. We need to create jobs in new and expanding technologies, making smart investments that will help businesses in every community succeed in a global economy. For every dollar invested in broadband the economy sees a ten-fold return on that investment. Investments include the following:
• $10 billion for science facilities, research, and instrumentation
• $6 billion to expand broadband Internet access so businesses in rural and other underserved areas can connect to the global economy
To build a 21st-century economy, we must engage contractors across the nation. We must create jobs to rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges. We must modernize public buildings and put people to work cleaning our air, water, and land. Investments include the following:
• $30 billion for highway construction
• $31 billion to modernize federal and other public infrastructure
• $19 billion for clean water, flood control, and environmental restoration investments
• $10 billion for transit and rail to reduce traffic congestion and gas consumption
To remain prosperous and competitive, we must enable more children to learn in 21st-century classrooms, labs, and libraries. Investments include the following:
• $41 billion to local school districts through Title I ($13 billion), IDEA ($13 billion; see http://idea.ed.gov), a new School Modernization and Repair Program ($14 billion), and the Education Technology Program ($1 billion)
• $79 billion in state fiscal relief to prevent cutbacks to key services, including $39 billion to local school districts and public colleges and universities distributed through existing state and federal formulas; $15 billion to states as bonus grants as a reward for meeting key performance measures; and $25 billion to states for other high-priority needs such as public safety and other critical services
• $16 billion to increase the Pell grant (http://www.ed.gov/programs/fpg/index.html) by $500
• $6 billion for higher education modernization
We will lower the costs of healthcare. To save not only jobs but also money and lives, we will update and computerize our healthcare system to cut red tape, prevent medical mistakes, and help drastically reduce healthcare costs (by billions) each year. Investments will include the following:
• $20 billion for health information technology to prevent medical mistakes, provide better care to patients, and introduce cost-saving efficiencies
• $4.1 billion to provide for preventative care and to evaluate the most effective healthcare treatments
High unemployment and rising costs have exceeded what most Americans earn. We will provide direct tax relief to 95% of American workers and spur investment and job growth for American businesses. We will also help workers train and find jobs and help struggling families make ends meet. Investments include the following:
• $43 billion for increased unemployment benefits and job training
• $39 billion to support those who lose their jobs by helping them to pay the cost of keeping their employer-provided healthcare under COBRA2 and providing short-term options to be covered by Medicaid
• $20 billion to increase the food stamp benefit by ~13% to help defray rising food costs
We will provide relief to states so they can continue to employ teachers, firefighters, and police officers and provide vital services without having to unnecessarily raise middle class taxes.
• $87 billion for a temporary increase in the Medicaid matching rate
• $4 billion for state and local law enforcement funding
natalnorg note: The reader should be advised that the outline of this economic stimulus package has been modified (in some cases quite considerably and creatively so) from http://appropriations.house.gov/pdf/PressSummary01-15-09.pdf. Changes apart from standard mechanical copyediting include rewording, reformatting, and restructuring. The Editor of alchemy strongly believes, however, that no substantive changes have been introduced here. The bill in its 647-page entirety deserves some perusal as well and is thus made available here: http://big.assets.huffingtonpost.com/HR1.pdf. Refer back to the outline from the House of Appropriations for a more accessible, detailed review of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. As for the Act itself, the Editor renders no judgment except to say that we will be talking about this legislation for as long as we are a nation. That is the natalnorg promise and guarantee. This is the New Deal for our time, ladies and gentlemen. God bless you for reading. A good Sunday to you. And to the survival of the planet, I say Amen.
- vl1 Conservative economist Mark Zandi. See http://www.economy.com/mark-zandi/default.asp.
2 See employee's guide at http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/pdf/cobraemployee.pdf for detailed information regarding this act.
15 January 2009
soaring: we did not see it coming: guardians to be here
We were holding people, hugging them … holding their hands, warming them with our body heat. We tried to take them to the back ... which was warmer. It was furthest from the entrance.
10 January 2009
For starters, sobbing wretchedly—
the elder, one deep night,
shook the younger,
and suddenly aloud:
Why are these cities black, son?
Why this ashen earth!
Wherefore art thou rainbows?
[huh son, he said, tell me]
And on and on incredulity went,
stretching out in shook to another fine and dreamy hayseed of crosses, stars, and crescents.
I am your host this evening.
And heroically he was
off his medication.
With this pardonable droplet of sin I give you
a reckoning! Do not warn me!
[there is no trespassing, etc.]
They say it was a long night
for young shook.
9 January 2009
04 January 2009
Slouching Toward a Palestinian Holocaust
by Richard Falk
The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
29 June 2007
There is little doubt that the Nazi Holocaust was as close to unconditional evil as has been revealed throughout the entire bloody history of the human species. Its massiveness, unconcealed genocidal intent, and reliance on the mentality and instruments of modernity give its enactment in the death camps of Europe a special status in our moral imagination. This special status is exhibited in the continuing presentation of its gruesome realities through film, books, and a variety of cultural artifacts more than six decades after the events in question ceased. The permanent memory of the Holocaust is also kept alive by the existence of several notable museums devoted exclusively to the depiction of the horrors that took place during the period of Nazi rule in Germany. Photo caption: Sunset. Gaza. 3 January 2009. Photo courtesy Getty Images.
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
William Butler Yeats - The Second Coming
Against this background, it is especially painful for me, as an American Jew, to feel compelled to portray the ongoing and intensifying abuse of the Palestinian people by Israel through a reliance on such an inflammatory metaphor as ‘holocaust.’ The word is derived from the Greek holos (meaning ‘completely’) and kaustos (meaning ‘burnt’), and was used in ancient Greece to refer to the complete burning of a sacrificial offering to a divinity. Because such a background implies a religious undertaking, there is some inclination in Jewish literature to prefer the Hebrew word ‘Shoah’ that can be translated roughly as ‘calamity,’ and was the name given to the 1985 epic nine-hour narration of the Nazi experience by the French filmmaker, Claude Lanzmann. The Germans themselves were more antiseptic in their designation, officially naming their undertaking as the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Qestion.’ The label is, of course, inaccurate as a variety of non-Jewish identities were also targets of this genocidal assault, including the Roma and Sinti(‘gypsies), Jehovah Witnesses, gays, disabled persons, political opponents.
Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not. The recent developments in Gaza are especially disturbing because they express so vividly a deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty. The suggestion that this pattern of conduct is a holocaust-in-the-making represents a rather desperate appeal to the governments of the world and to international public opinion to act urgently to prevent these current genocidal tendencies from culminating in a collective tragedy. If ever the ethos of ‘a responsibility to protect,’ recently adopted by the UN Security Council as the basis of ‘humanitarian intervention’ is applicable, it would be to act now to start protecting the people of Gaza from further pain and suffering. But it would be unrealistic to expect the UN to do anything in the face of this crisis, given the pattern of US support for Israel and taking into account the extent to which European governments have lent their weight to recent illicit efforts to crush Hamas as a Palestinian political force.
Even if the pressures exerted on Gaza were to be acknowledged as having genocidal potential and even if Israel’s impunity under America’s geopolitical umbrella is put aside, there is little assurance that any sort of protective action in Gaza would be taken. There were strong advance signals in 1994 of a genocide to come in Rwanda, and yet nothing was done to stop it; the UN and the world watched while the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of Bosnians took place, an incident that the World Court described as ‘genocide’ a few months ago; similarly, there have been repeated allegations of genocidal conduct in Darfur over the course of the last several years, and hardly an international finger has been raised, either to protect those threatened or to resolve the conflict in some manner that shares power and resources among the contending ethnic groups.
But Gaza is morally far worse, although mass death has not yet resulted. It is far worse because the international community is watching the ugly spectacle unfold while some of its most influential members actively encourage and assist Israel in its approach to Gaza. Not only the United States, but also the European Union, are complicit, as are such neighbors as Egypt and Jordan apparently motivated by their worries that Hamas is somehow connected with their own problems associated with the rising strength of the Muslim Brotherhood within their own borders. It is helpful to recall that the liberal democracies of Europe paid homage to Hitler at the 1936 Olympic Games, and then turned away tens of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. I am not suggesting that the comparison should be viewed as literal, but to insist that a pattern of criminality associated with Israeli policies in Gaza has actually been supported by the leading democracies of the 21st century.
To ground these allegations, it is necessary to consider the background of the current situation. For over four decades, ever since 1967, Gaza has been occupied by Israel in a manner that turned this crowded area into a cauldron of pain and suffering for the entire population on a daily basis, with more than half of Gazans living in miserable refugees camps and even more dependent on humanitarian relief to satisfy basic human needs. With great fanfare, under Sharon’s leadership, Israel supposedly ended its military occupation and dismantled its settlements in 2005. The process was largely a sham as Israel maintained full control over borders, air space, offshore seas, as well as asserted its military control of Gaza, engaging in violent incursions, sending missiles to Gaza at will on assassination missions that themselves violate international humanitarian law, and managing to kill more than 300 Gazan civilians since its supposed physical departure.
As unacceptable as is this earlier part of the story, a dramatic turn for the worse occurred when Hamas prevailed in the January 2006 national legislative elections. It is a bitter irony that Hamas was encouraged, especially by Washington, to participate in the elections to show its commitment to a political process (as an alternative to violence) and then was badly punished for having the temerity to succeed. These elections were internationally monitored under the leadership of the former American president, Jimmy Carter, and pronounced as completely fair.
Carter has recently termed this Israeli/American refusal to accept the outcome of such a democratic verdict as itself ‘criminal.’ It is also deeply discrediting of the campaign of the Bush presidency to promote democracy in the region, an effort already under a dark shadow in view of the policy failure in Iraq.
After winning the Palestinian elections, Hamas was castigated as a terrorist organization that had not renounced violence against Israel and had refused to recognize the Jewish state as a legitimate political entity. In fact, the behavior and outlook of Hamas is quite different. From the outset of its political Hamas was ready to work with other Palestinian groups, especially Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas, to establish a ‘unity’ government. More than this, their leadership revealed a willingness to move toward an acceptance of Israel’s existence if Israel would in turn agree to move back to its 1967 borders, implementing finally unanimous Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
Even more dramatically, Hamas proposed a ten-year truce with Israel, and went so far as to put in place a unilateral ceasefire that lasted for eighteen months, and was broken only to engage in rather pathetic strikes mainly taking place in response to Israeli violent provocations in Gaza. As Efraim Halevi, former head of Israel’s Mossad was reported to have said, ‘What Isreal needs from Hamas is an end to violence, not diplomatic recognition.’ And this is precisely what Hamas offered and what Israel rejected.
The main weapon available to Hamas, and other Palestinian extremist elements, were Qassam missiles that resulted in producing no more than 12 Israeli deaths in six years. While each civilian death is an unacceptable tragedy, the ratio of death and injury for the two sides in so unequal as to call into question the security logic of continuously inflicting excessive force and collective punishment on the entire beleaguered Gazan population, which is accurately regarded as the world’s largest ‘prison.’
Instead of trying diplomacy and respecting democratic results, Israel and the United States used their leverage to reverse the outcome of the 2006 elections by organizing a variety of international efforts designed to make Hamas fail in its attempts to govern in Gaza. Such efforts were reinforced by the related unwillingness of the defeated Fatah elements to cooperate with Hamas in establishing a government that would be representative of Palestinians as a whole. The main anti-Hamas tactic relied upon was to support Abbas as the sole legitimate leader of the Palestinian people, to impose an economic boycott on the Palestinians generally, to send in weapons for Fatah militias and to enlist neighbors in these efforts, particularly Egypt and Jordan. The United States Government appointed a special envoy, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, to work with Abbas forces, and helped channel $40 million to buildup the Presidential Guard, which were the Fatah forces associated with Abbas.
This was a particularly disgraceful policy. Fatah militias, especially in Gaza, had long been wildly corrupt and often used their weapons to terrorize their adversaries and intimidate the population in a variety of thuggish ways. It was this pattern of abuse by Fatah that was significantly responsible for the Hamas victory in the 2006 elections, along with the popular feelings that Fatah, as a political actor, had neither the will nor capacity to achieve results helpful to the Palestinian people, while Hamas had managed resistance and community service efforts that were widely admired by Gazans.
The latest phase of this external/internal dynamic was to induce civil strife in Gaza that led a complete takeover by Hamas forces. With standard irony, a set of policies adopted by Israel in partnership with the United States once more produced exactly the opposite of their intended effects. The impact of the refusal to honor the election results has after 18 months made Hamas much stronger throughout the Palestinian territories, and put it in control of Gaza. Such an outcome is reminiscent of a similar effect of the 2006 Lebanon War that was undertaken by the Israel/United States strategic partnership to destroy Hezbollah, but had the actual consequence of making Hezbollah a much stronger, more respected force in Lebanon and throughout the region.
The Israel and the United States seemed trapped in a faulty logic that is incapable of learning from mistakes, and takes every setback as a sign that instead of shifting course, the faulty undertaking should be expanded and intensified, that failure resulted from doing too little of the right thing, rather than is the case, doing the wrong thing. So instead of taking advantage of Hamas’ renewed call for a unity government, its clarification that it is not against Fatah, but only that “[w]e have fought against a small clique within Fatah,” (Abu Ubaya, Hamas military commander), Israel seems more determined than ever to foment civil war in Palestine, to make the Gazans pay with their wellbeing and lives to the extent necessary to crush their will, and to separate once and for all the destinies of Gaza and the West Bank.
The insidious new turn of Israeli occupation policy is as follows: push Abbas to rely on hard-line no compromise approach toward Hamas, highlighted by the creation of an unelected ‘emergency’ government to replace the elected leadership. The emergency designated prime minister, Salam Fayyad, appointed to replace the Hamas leader, Ismail Haniya, as head of the Palestinian Authority. It is revealing to recall that when Fayyad’s party was on the 2006 election list its candidates won only 2% of the vote. Israel is also reportedly ready to ease some West Bank restrictions on movement in such a way as to convince Palestinians that they can have a better future if they repudiate Hamas and place their bets on Abbas, by now a most discredited political figure who has substantially sold out the Palestinian cause to gain favor and support from Israel/United States, as well as to prevail in the internal Palestinian power struggle.
To promote these goals it is conceivable, although unlikely, that Israel might release Marwan Barghouti, the only credible Fatah leader, from prison provided Barghouti would be willing to accept the Israeli approach of Sharon/Olmert to the establishment of a Palestinian state. This latter step is doubtful, as Barghouti is a far cry from Abbas, and would be highly unlikely to agree to anything less than a full withdrawal of Israel to the 1967 borders, including the elimination of West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements.
This latest turn in policy needs to be understood in the wider context of the Israeli refusal to reach a reasonable compromise with the Palestinian people since 1967. There is widespread recognition that such an outcome would depend on Israeli withdrawal, establishment of a Palestinian state with full sovereignty on the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as capital, and sufficient external financial assistance to give the Palestinians the prospect of economic viability. The truth is that there is no Israeli leadership with the vision or backing to negotiate such a solution, and so the struggle will continue with violence on both sides.
The Israeli approach to the Palestinian challenge is based on isolating Gaza and cantonizing the West Bank, leaving the settlement blocs intact, and appropriating the whole of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. For years this sidestepping of diplomacy has dominated Israeli behavior, including during the Oslo peace process that was initiated on the White House lawn in 1993 by the famous handshake between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat.
While talking about peace, the number of Israeli settlers doubled, huge sums were invested in settlement roads linked directly to Israel, and the process of Israeli settlement and Palestinian displacement from East Jerusalem was moving ahead at a steady pace. Significantly, also, the ‘moderate’ Arafat was totally discredited as a Palestinian leader capable of negotiating with Israel, being treated as dangerous precisely because he was willing to accept a reasonable compromise. Interestingly, until recently when he became useful in the effort to reverse the Hamas electoral victory, Abbas was treated by Isreal as too weak, too lacking in authority, to act on behalf of the Palestinian people in a negotiating process, one more excuse for persisting with its preferred unilateralist course.
These considerations also make it highly unlikely that Barghouti will be released from prison unless there is some dramatic change of heart on the Israeli side. Instead of working toward some kind of political resolution, Israel has built an elaborate and illegal security wall on Palestinian territory, expanded the settlements, made life intolerable for the 1.4 million people crammed into Gaza, and pretends that such unlawful ‘facts on the ground’ are a path leading toward security and peace.
On June 25, 2007 leaders from Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority met in Sharm El Sheik on the Red Sea to move ahead with their anti-Hamas diplomacy. Israel proposes to release 250 Fatah prisoners (of 9,000 Palestinians currently held) and to hand over Palestinian revenues to Abbas on an installment basis, provided none of the funds is used in Gaza, where a humanitarian catastrophe unfolds day by day. These leaders agreed to cooperate in this effort to break Hamas and to impose a Fatah-led Palestinian Authority on an unwilling Palestine population. Remember that Hamas prevailed in the 2006 elections, not only in Gaza, but in the West Bank as well. To deny Palestinian their right of self-determination is almost certain to backfire in a manner similar to similar efforts, producing a radicalized version of what is being opposed. As some commentators have expressed, getting rid of Hamas means establishing al Qaeda!
Israel is currently stiffening the boycott on economic relations that has brought the people of Gaza to the brink of collective starvation. This set of policies, carried on for more than four decades, has imposed a sub-human existence on a people that have been repeatedly and systematically made the target of a variety of severe forms of collective punishment. The entire population of Gaza is treated as the ‘enemy’ of Israel, and little pretext is made in Tel Aviv of acknowledging the innocence of this long victimized civilian society.
To persist with such an approach under present circumstances is indeed genocidal, and risks destroying an entire Palestinian community that is an integral part of an ethnic whole. It is this prospect that makes appropriate the warning of a Palestinian holocaust in the making, and should remind the world of the famous post-Nazi pledge of ‘never again.’
There is little doubt that the Nazi Holocaust was as close to unconditional evil as has been revealed throughout the entire bloody history of the human species. Its massiveness, unconcealed genocidal intent, and reliance on the mentality and instruments of modernity give its enactment in the death camps of Europe a special status in our moral imagination. This special status is exhibited in the continuing presentation of its gruesome realities through film, books, and a variety of cultural artifacts more than six decades after the events in question ceased. The permanent memory of the Holocaust is also kept alive by the existence of several notable museums devoted exclusively to the depiction of the horrors that took place during the period of Nazi rule in Germany.
Photo caption: Sunset. Gaza. 3 January 2009. Photo courtesy Getty Images.
01 January 2009
Aboubacar saysIf Palestine wants peace they can get it, easily. If they prefer war they will smell the smoke forever. Arabs are ignorant. They know only their dictator who put fire on them. An Arab man asks a black man in Egypt (the Arab in Arabic): "Where are you from?" The black man answers: "From Guinea." The Arab asks: "Is Guinea in America or Europe?" Then the Arab asks: "Are there women in your country, cars, houses?"
natalnorg note: Comment taken and adapted from Al Jazeera English, "Obama's Gaza silence condemned." See http://english.aljazeera.net/news/americas/2008/12/2008123101532604810.html.